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Recommend A National History Commission...Dr. Elwood Dunn Proposes To TRC...Proposes National Forum To Address Symbols

A Liberian Historian, Dr. Elwood Dunn has proposed the establishment of a National History Commission and a national forum to address national symbols.

Dunn, Professor of Political Science at Sewanee: The University of the South in the US state of Tennessee, said the country stands at a critical moment in history when the opportunity is ripe to visit the state creation project, the national architecture, the foundation of the nationhood as "we search diligently for sustainable peace anchored in equity and justice, and in a share sense of common national community."

He was testifying Friday at Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) ongoing Thematic and Institutional Hearing on Historical Review at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia.

Dr. Dunn said the establishment of the commission or a forum to address Liberia's problematic history could take several forms, though appointment by national authorities would be the most desirable.

Dunn, the Alfred Walter Negley Professor, who is the author and co-author of numerous books and articles notably on Liberia, said the commission would bring together Liberian historians and historians of Liberia.

Following proper organization and serious deliberation, he said, a document might be produced which, following appropriate professional vetting might be used by history writing authors of textbooks for our schools and universities.

"We live unconsciously almost daily with the other symbols of our nationhood oftentimes oblivious of their significance in strengthening or forging a sense of national community and unity, "Professor Dunn said.

He said in the task of forging a nation, these presumed interrogative symbols, which include, the 1847 Declaration of Independence, the founding constitution, the flag, anthem, motto, seal and national monuments, have not been made to relate to the history, norms, values and expectations of all the constituent elements or cultural groups in Liberia. Dr. Dunn said that Liberians have wallowed in contested values, contested identity and contested purpose.

The Liberian historian said some of these symbols are in fact symbols of alienation and an appropriate forum for discussing and disposing of these issues remains to be determined.

"As a people, we face two sets of interrelated problems. The first is our unfinished task of nation building. The body politic is afflicted by endemic alienation which is deeply rooted in our national society. We postpone addressing this only at our peril," he said.

Dr. Dunn said the other problem the country face is more evident and a direct consequence of almost three decades of instability and war.

He said providing the tangibles, the deliverables without serious attention to the intangibles of overcoming alienation and building community could undermine the sustainable peace of the country.

Under the theme: "Examining Liberia's Past: Reality, Myth, Falsehood and the Conflict", the hearing provided a critical review and expert perspectives into Liberia's past not only for the purpose of understanding the historical antecedents to the conflict, but to ensure the country's history or national narrative reflected the experiences, beliefs and aspirations of Liberians of all backgrounds.

The hearing featuring the testimonies and presentations of historians, anthropologists, journalists, lawyers, politicians, diplomats and clergymen was intended to help Liberians rewrite their history by seeking to identify the issues that underpinned our history, divided us as a people and nearly eviscerated the state.

The TRC Thematic and Institutional hearings are focused on events between 1979 and 2003 and the national and external actors that helped to shape those events.

The commission was agreed upon in the August 2003 Accra Peace Agreement and created by the TRC Act of 2005 to "promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation," and at the same time make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.

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